Monthly Archives: July 2012

Education Delivery within 30 Minutes, or Your Money Back!

by Hap Aziz

No, education is not like a pizza (nor is it like a box of chocolates), a commodity to be delivered–even if there is a transaction involved. However, many people do equate the process of educating with the task of information delivery, where students’ minds are vessels to be filled by the wisdom of some source. While that might be a component of the very complex and textured process of learning, it isn’t everything of course. One of the challenges to understanding the process is in identifying what all the components are, and after decades of “research,” it appears to me there are still major gaps in our understanding.

The article “Is Khan Academy a real ‘education solution’?” written by Valerie Strauss for The Washington Post is a more critical look at the approach the Khan Academy takes by “flipping” the classroom. I like the points that Strauss makes in her piece, especially regarding the issue of learning efficiency, and how we might come to know the efficiency of the process. While Strauss asks the question, I want to point out that we truly do not measure what is going on in the brain in terms of learning and cognition–not in a way that would give us a very clear and accurate picture of the effectiveness of various teaching practices. Last year I wrote a blog entry on that subject, “Practicing 18th Century Education in the 21st Century Classroom.” Also, it is worth mentioning that while there are common themes that may be effective for large groups of learners, the most efficient education processes are going to depend on customization to the learner. There will be no one-size-fits-all solutions. To a large degree, the Khan Academy videos fall in this bucket, but there are avenues for customization through the integration of interactive elements that “direct” the video clips–though this will add greatly to the complexity and cost of production.

Ultimately, though, if we are to know with certainty what education processes work for individual learners, we need to be able to take a look at what’s going on in learners’ minds. Outside of the occasional NASA experiment, we’re really not doing a whole lot of kind of research.

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Filed under education, education technology, effective practices, Hap Aziz, neuroscience

Are SMART Boards Smart Purchases?

by Hap Aziz

In my last blog entry, I wrote about the use of smart devices in the teaching and learning environment, wondering in my public forum whether or not there is true educational value to the high-tech tools. In my ongoing reading on the subject, I came across this article by Stephanie McCrummen published in The Washington Post online about two years ago. While the article speaks directly to the Smart Technologies device (essentially, a “computerized” white board), the observations here can easily be extended to a variety of educational technology products.

McCrummen raises some troubling points, especially given the level of monetary investment involved by school districts. The evidence in support of the use of these devices is very thin, and (in my mind at least) does not justify the level of enthusiasm for integrating them into the classroom. I think this is a key takeaway from the article:

Chris Dede, an education professor at Harvard University, said whiteboards are popular precisely because companies designed them to suit the old instructional style with which teachers are most comfortable.

Rather than inventing new ways of teaching and learning experiences for students, we are developing technologies that replicate the ages-old classroom experience. Educators are not, for the most part, pushing the industry to innovate to keep up with new education techniques. It’s like a bad holiday–you see the shiny new present, but when you tear off all the fancy wrapping paper, it’s still the same old stale fruit cake from the year before.

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Filed under education, education technology, Hap Aziz, smart technologies

The Effectiveness of Smart Devices in the Classroom

by Hap Aziz

Although this is a topic that I’ve spent a lot of time going around and around on, I can keep this post relatively short by asking a single question, and then framing the conversation around it:

What is the proof, actual and definitive, that smart devices (such as iPads) have measurably positive impact–repeatable and repeated–on student learning outcomes at any level?

Honestly, I haven’t seen any such proof that indicates results obtained through the integration of the technology is possible only through the use of that technology. That’s a key consideration in my mind. For example, take a look at the article “Do iPads Really Improve Learning? Did you Miss Anything?” From the article:

From all the data, the tablet group scored 2.1 points higher than the control group on the Hearing and Recording Sounds in Words subtest. This is the only(1/10) statistically significant result from the first phase of the study. For this assessment, students listened to a dictated sentence and wrote it down, which measures students’ level of phonemic awareness and ability to represent sound with letters. ”One of the reasons that we may have seen a jump in that particular subtest is that the apps that we are using for literacy are directly connected to those skills,” said Sue Dorris, administrator at East Auburn Community School in the Auburn School District.

And then a little further in the article:

Mike Muir, Auburn School Department’s Multiple Pathways Leader, explained: “The objective has to be learning, not just getting the technology out there, we are paying attention to app selection and focused on continuous improvement — we aren’t just handing equipment to teachers.” “And the iPad implementation in Auburn was done very carefully, with the research component built in from the start, not added as an after-thought.

One could argue that the learning outcomes are not so much related to the implementation of any specific technology, but rather the outcomes are improved because of the improved and increased attention around the actual curriculum development to appropriately integrate iPad use in this case. If educators increased their level of curriculum preparation to the same extent, and if they increased the level of interaction with the students (i.e., “How are you doing in with this part of the course?” as opposed to “How are you doing with your use of the iPad?”), we could very well see the same level of outcome improvement.

However, stating that we can address learning challenges through the use of more elbow grease in the curriculum development and instructor-learner interaction processes is not nearly as glamorous as stating that the solution to our learning challenges lies in implementing a new one-student-one-device policy across the board.

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Identifying Great Video Games for Education

by Hap Aziz

In her blog post “10 Surprising Ways to Spot a Great Video Game,” Shira Lee Katz lists 10 characteristics of video games that have value for learners. Additionally, she provides two example video games for each category, and she provides a brief description of each game along with the intended player age range. Though the game examples are all for learners in elementary school, the characteristic categories can be applied to all age groups at any education level. It would be quite instructive to build such a list for the college-aged population.

Now, an article I would really like to see would be “10 Surprising Ways to Spot a Great Course.” A great hurdle to overcome, of course, is that we do not have a convenient mechanism for learners (or other educators, for that matter) to try out or review courses before actually taking them. Until there is better visibility into the course experience (whether it is online, face-to-face, or any combination in between), it will be exceedingly difficult to compare courses on a wide scale and develop a true rating system that allows the learner-as-consumer to make informed choices about course selection.

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Filed under computer games, education course content, education technology, face-to-face instruction, games, Hap Aziz, online education

Online Instruction for the Millennial Student

by Martin LaGrow

From a very young age, children learn through play and exploration. This is a time tested truth, and for generations academics have struggled to capture the learning elements of play and exploration and to harness their power in a classroom setting. All too often, sadly, standardization and metrics win out and students are forced to ‘learn’ in an artificial environment in order to achieve equally artificial standards. In essence, children’s natural processes for learning and exploration are often squelched by the traditional classroom environment.

My colleague Hap Aziz recently wrote about the disconnect between millennial students and higher education in the online world. One of his key points was that millennial students are very adept at online learning, and yet generally do not appreciate what is offered to them in terms of online courses. This conundrum is a technological evolution of the age-old problem expressed above—the natural tendencies of learning are thwarted by institutional efforts to teach and measure in very traditional means. Ironically, history repeats itself as students are again forced to forego their natural tendencies to conform to the world of education.

From Aristotle to John Dewey to Jean Piaget, many great philosophers recognized the need for the academic process to start with the student’s natural inclinations. Education is not, nor has it ever been, a one-size-fits-all proposition. So what does this mean for higher education when it comes to dealing with the millennial student online? It means that you do not start with a prefabricated, cut-and-dried set of expectations and outcomes for an online course. It means that you instead start with knowing the learner and allowing them to use their proclivities rather than stifling them. Therefore, it is equally as important to know the student as it is to know the content!

So what does research tell us about the millennial student? Millennials Go to College by Neil Howe and William Strauss may be the definitive resource on their characteristics. In a nutshell, Howe and Strauss identified these seven traits as common to the new generation of learner—categorically, students born since 1982:Special. They have always been treated as special, important, and wanted. Positive feedback and academic emphasis on building self-esteem means they are comfortable on a pedestal.

  • Sheltered. A product of being over-protected by parents and society. Consequently, they have little experience in resolving conflicts.
  • Confident. Motivated, goal-oriented, and destined for greatness. They see college as the launch pad for future success.
  • Team-Oriented.  Group-oriented within their own generation. Not wanting to stand out or be considered selfish, and geared toward service and volunteerism.
  • Achieving. Focused on good grades, hard work, and involvement in extra curriculars. Pressured to be perhaps too career focused; achieving goals supersedes the importance of personal development.
  • Pressured. May not understand spontaneity as their childhoods were structured and regimented with organized activity. Overly given to multi-tasking and taking on too much, but expect others to be flexible with their scheduling conflicts.
  • Conventional. Civic minded, respectful of authority, and believing that the government knows what’s best and will take care of them. They value parents’ opinions, conformism, and social rules.
What cues can the instructional designer and online instructor take from these characteristics when it comes to crafting a meaningful learning experience?
  • The millennial student expects the instructor to be authoritative yet accessible; worthy of respect and personal. While this student may respond well to positive feedback, he/she may require detailed, compassionate explanations of failures rather than just being pointed to a rubric. This student will strive to meet expectations when given a second opportunity.
  • If you run into a conflict with this student, take the high ground. It does not always pay to take a hard line and force them to accept your judgment. Consider difficult situations as teachable moments to help them develop their resolution and negotiation skills.
  • Create meaningful opportunities for group work and team assignments. When doing so, allow them the opportunity to evaluate their own participation and the participation of their peers. Give them ownership of the goals and outcomes for group assignments.
  • Remember to keep a focus on how your course develops them as a person, not on how well they will meet pre-established course objectives. If their goal is to meet course objectives, when the course is over so is their learning. If they learn that they are acquiring life-skills and useful knowledge, their learning continues as they move on in life.

These are some general principles to consider when working with the millennial student. In a follow up to this article next week, I will expand on how the millennial student uses technology, and what specifically that means for enhancing online instruction.

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Filed under education, Hap Aziz, instructional design, Martin LaGrow, Millennial students